After working a 12-hour shift in a patrol car, Anaheim Police Officer Eddie Fletcher drives straight over to Brookhurst Community Park for a couple of hours of Pop Warner football.
But he’s not there watching his own kids play. He’s there helping coach the 28 9- and 10-year-olds on the Anaheim Rams to improve their offensive and defensive skills, as well as serving as a law enforcement liaison to community youth and their families.
“The mission was to build a relationship between the cops and the kids,” Fletcher says of the new pilot Youth Athletic Program under the Cops4Kids (C4K) Program. “[The agency] wanted officers to be more involved in the program.”
As part of that, Fletcher arrives to practice (three days a week) in his patrol car and during the Saturday games, he wears an APD Youth Athletic Program shirt, badge and gun. The idea is for kids and their parents to participate in a fun activity with a law enforcement officer, opening a line of communication, as well as providing some added security to the area. (A 9-year-old girl was killed three years ago in a gang shooting across the street from the park.)
“Me being there was more of a deterrent for anything to happen with all these kids,” says Fletcher. “It’s just us getting involved with the community more and seeing us in a different light… They see us as more human.”
At first there was a bit of a hurdle to cross. Not so much with the kids, who found Fletcher’s police Charger and gun of particular interest. But he was met with silence from many parents – especially moms – who might have a husband in jail and not think very highly of law enforcement.
But once family members saw the positive influence Fletcher provided and his supportive coaching style, they seemed to relax.
“Now they interact, they say hi,” Fletcher says. “A lot of them just call me coach, which is great.”
Fletcher is no newbie when it comes to coaching football. He coached Pop Warner for six years when his son (now 18) was on a team.
As assistant coach for the Anaheim Rams, his specialty is the offensive and defensive line, but he tries to leave the intensity of actual coaching to the other coaches. His role is more of confidence-builder and motivator.
“They needed a good role model,” he says. “I let the head coaches and the dads be out there yelling.”
Fletcher’s Pop Warner connections also have come in handy for the team. When he started coaching, the Anaheim Rams didn’t have much in the way of equipment. He made a few calls and got some tackling pads donated by Foothill High School. Servite High School donated a sled and also student volunteers for Anaheim Rams games.
“It’s been a great influence for them and also for me,” Fletcher says.
Anaheim Lt. Tim Schmidt says Fletcher is a great role model for the agency.
“I’m not aware of any other police department in Orange County that is supporting a youth sports program like this … with on-duty police officers engaged with kids and families,” he says.